Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reflections on Phil Green's session (LSG13)

Although it's been almost a month since the Learning & Skills Group Conference, I'm still keen to get some of my thoughts about the sessions down to make sense of it all.  Going back over Phil Green's session on ensuring real interaction in online learning in the light of some recent experiences has been very helpful for me.

I was keen to attend Phil's session because I've been a lead user of web conferencing in my organisation for several years now, and I've used it to help colleagues learn from me on a number of occasions.  This has included teaching people to use the web conferencing tool itself and run their own sessions, preferably in a free-wheeling and humorous way, and also to get people started with their own e-learning projects.  I've always considered everything I've done to be firmly in the category of informal learning, so taking a serious look at how to use the medium as a classroom had a strong appeal.

What guiding principles do we need to stick to for a virtual classroom to work?  Phil gave us an opening quote of 'None of us is as smart as all of us', emphasising the need to draw on the knowledge of everyone present.  Really an effective virtual classroom shouldn't be too different from an effective physical classroom.  The problem is that most of us don't know how to really use a classroom in the first place, so we end up bringing all our bad habits with us, and being seduced by the tools, to the detriment of learning.
Key goals for learners in a classroom:
  • Taking in new content and...
  • Engaging in meaningful practice around it...
  • Discussing it with their peers...
  • Collaborating with their peers...
  • Making sense of it...

How can the virtual classroom enhance (or interfere with) this?
  • Using internet connections opens up limitless content to explore (but we need to provide the right guidance)
  • Access interactive resources to aid meaningful practice
  • Engage in more informal interaction with their peers
  • Reflect on their participation using recording of the session
Whenever I have been teaching people within a web conference setting, the best learning occurs when I keep the prescribed content to a minimum, and act to give real tacit advice as people are exploring things for themselves.  Letting everyone see what is going on and take part really helps them to gain from observation and discussion - while I've recorded a huge number of training recordings in the past, nothing quite beats live learning for getting over the tips that boost a learner's confidence.

What should the tutor be doing in a classroom?
  • Reacting and responding to the needs of learners - not just working from prescribed content
  • Providing meaningful challenges and activities for learners
Best tips for moving to the online environment
  • Don't assume that being a good face-to-face trainer will make you a good online facilitator
  • Don't assume that all the learning has to take place on-screen - allow learners a pause for reflection (sometimes less is more)
  • Activities that work well face-to-face may not translate well to the online environment
  • Remember that our expectations for online interaction are constantly changing
  • Don't get seduced by the technology
Whenever I've been training people to use web conferencing tools, the real value comes in helping people prepare for the situations that they will actually be facing - effectively working in collaboration to fill in the gaps around more standard guidance.  I've found it best to get the prescribed content out of the way before the live session anyway, by having guidance notes and videos permanently available on the LMS.  Phil's call for reflection is particularly insightful, as this is something that I haven't directly considered when running a session so far.

See also: Learning & Skills Conference 2013 curated backchannel resources.